I believe no song in Lou Reed‘s catalog better represents the hardships he overcame as a musician than “Coney Island Baby.” I wish there was video of the live version from Take No Prisoners, with the sincerely beautiful, painful, uncomfortable intro about wanting to play football for the coach, but this will have to do. It helps to have video evidence of the struggle simply playing rhythm guitar and singing was for Lou.
I’ve spent a lot of time through the years having a laugh over Lou Reed, but I love the man’s music and the awkward pathos he brought to rock ‘n roll. I think about the expenses that went into paying studio cats and the highly accomplished road warriors who made up his touring bands to put flourishes on the 4 chords Reed can barely muster playing on songs like “Coney Island Baby.” I think about the background singers who had to get paid to accompany his hectoring on the choruses. I think about how much effort went into this attempt at reaching out to The People, the way Bruce, The Boss, has been able to do since he ambled out of his mother’s womb. Does “Coney Island Baby” land as intended for all but a handful of even Lou’s most passionate fans? Probably not.
“Coney Island Baby” always hits the spot for me. We typically measure our heroes up by their greatest accomplishments, their “Sweet Jane,” their “Like a Rolling Stone.” Greatness can also be measured by an artist’s “missed landings.” I want to play football for the coach.
Is there a missed landing, an against all odds numbers by one of your favorite artists that does as much to demonstrate that artist’s greatness as their acknowledged classics?